I remember waking up on September 11, 2001 to the radio reporting that a plane had struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. My wife and I turned on the TV and watched the news.
I’m not sure whether we saw United Flight 175 fly into the South Tower or not. What I do remember clearly is standing beside a cat tree in my living room, watching one of the towers collapsing, and hugging my wife as we stood in shocked horror.
I remember taking the train to work that morning. Most people on the platform stood quietly waiting. I don’t remember much talking. I assume most people were like me: confused, sad, angry, and wondering what would happen next.
At work we were all sent home after a few hours. I watched the news for a little bit then played a multi-player video game called Ultima Online for most of the afternoon. I remember a player had created an American flag on the ground in one of the virtual towns I used to frequent. I don’t know whether the player was a U.S. citizen or not. It doesn’t matter. On that day nearly everyone was an American.
Over the next several days, the shock wore off and the people I encountered around town and at work continued our daily lives. We watched the news, tried to make sense of what happened, and came together as one.
We treated each other with respect. There was a sense that life was precious. Drivers would give the right-of-way to strangers and nod to each other as if to say, “I’m okay, are you?” We recognized the humanity in each other and were acutely aware of how quickly life could be snuffed out.
Fifteen years ago, we were all patriots. Much has changed since then.
I became a citizen activist in 1990 when George H.W. Bush was president. For most of the last 26 years I’ve lobbied Congress and the various Administrations to support international development programs that help people at the bottom of the economic ladder survive and have a better chance at thriving.
I’ve met with many Congressional staffers in Washington D.C. I’ve talked face-to-face with several members of Congress. I’ve flown to D.C. for 10 RESULTS International Conferences and each time walked the halls of Congress to lobby on behalf of federal programs to reduce poverty overseas and in the U.S.
I don’t consider myself a political junkie. I don’t know the difference between George Wallace and George McGovern. What I do know is that Congress has gradually become increasingly partisan over the last 26 years. I suspect historians would have to go back to the Civil War to see a Congress more divided.
I’m very saddened and discouraged by the growing gulf between liberals and conservatives, between Democrats and Republicans, and perhaps most especially between moderate Republicans and extreme Republicans.
For a variety of reasons, members of both parties have become more partisan, but from my perspective as a fiscally conservative social liberal, the Republican party has shifted more to the extreme than the Democratic party has. There is popular denigration of moderate Republicans as RINOs (Republican In Name Only); I’ve not heard a similarly widely used term for Democrats. For example a Google search for RINO resulted in over 27 million hits while a search for blue dog Democrat resulted in only 36,500 hits.
I think what’s partly driving this polarization is that people are increasingly getting their news from biased “news” sources such as Fox News, MSNBC, and even Comedy Central’s Daily Show or social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter–whose subscribers get much of their content from partisan websites such as Breitbart News and Daily Kos. (I use quotation marks around news because these broadcasters aren’t so much news stations as content providers with news stories spun for entertainment and propaganda.)
The result reminds me of the quotation by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.” Unfortunately, many people are mistaking pundits’ pronouncements as facts rather than opinions. The repetition of these “facts” leads to growing distrust of the media and skepticism of anything that doesn’t fit one’s own views.
September 11, 2031
When people can’t agree on the facts, arguing what to do becomes nearly futile. Trust and respect between opposing sides disappears. Democracy is endangered.
I would like to humbly suggest that all who battle in the war of ideas need to
- be very aware of our own confirmation bias
- listen to each other very carefully to understand what others mean
- explain our own views while being aware the words we use may mean something different to others
- remember we all want what we think is best for ourselves, our families, and our friends
- compromise is not a bad thing
If we can all agree on those precepts, we might find common ground and begin to again build mutual prosperity. If not, I can only imagine that September 11, 2031 will be a nightmare.